Documentary Sheds New Light on 2004 Palace Brawl

Seventeen years after the infamous on-court brawl involving the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and their fans, a Netflix documentary re-examines the incident and brings more clarity to what was a pivotal moment in NBA history. Untold: Malice at the Palace asks if there was more to the event, which caused significant damage to the reputation of the game and led to permanent changes in the league than was reported at the time. Interested in the odds for this NBA season?

What Happened on the Night

The fight erupted quickly and escalated before it could be brought under control. A nasty foul by Pacers player Ron Artest on opposition man Ben Wallace led to a shove that sparked an on-court scuffle between players on both teams. At that point, the Pacers were ahead 97–82, and there were just 45.9 seconds left on the clock. The match would be abandoned before those last seconds could be played.

The fight was broken up, the aggressors on both sides retreated, and Artest then did something that many at the time considered to be deliberately provocative – he lay down on his back on the scorer’s table. In fact, Artest reveals in the documentary, he was using a coping mechanism that his therapist had suggested and attempting to find his equilibrium again.

Anyone who remembers that night knows what happened next. A fan, later identified as John Green and arrested and charged, threw a full beer cup directly at Artest. All hell, as they say, broke loose. The ESPN footage, with cameras directed on the stars, painted a picture of out-of-control players attacking their own fans. New security footage from the venue, obtained for the first time by the documentary makers, shows that the opposite was probably more true.

The security at the Palace clearly wasn’t up to scratch, and many of the fans were heavily under the influence of alcohol. When the Pacers retreated to the locker room, fighting their way through the angry crowd, the players feared for their safety. The police, when they arrived, seemed very unsure of how to deal with the situation. One cop interviewed admits almost trying to put down Reggie Miller, not recognizing him as a player.

The Aftermath

The Palace incident was pretty devastating for the game of basketball. Mainstream media reported the news in a way that firmly blamed the players, making them out to be thugs and Artest in particular as a dangerously loose cannon. Artest and eight other players received various suspensions, losing out on a collective $11 million or more in salary. Artest missed the rest of the season and left the Pacers shortly afterward. The Pacers had been title contenders until that point, but they never recovered the season.

The NBA then went on to attempt to rehabilitate its image, bringing in new rules and measures to try and prevent similar incidents in the future. The most effective of these in fact focused on the true problem – riled-up fans who had too much to drink. A two-drink per person limit was imposed, and alcohol sales stopped during the final quarter. The NBA denies that the introduction of a business casual dress code for players was a result of the brawl.

Artest went on the have a successful career in several other teams, as well as coaching and running a financial consultancy company for athletes. He is still regretful over the events of that day and says that he had hoped to win the season with the Pacers. Many fans who have watched the documentary find themselves more sympathetic to Artest, instead of laying the blame at the feet of Green, the beer-hurling fan.